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This Old Firehouse
A dramatic, revelatory account of the making of a global pandemic-from HIV's astonishing origins in colonial Africa to the current misdirected multibillion-dollar war on AIDS.
In this groundbreaking narrative, "Washington Post" reporter Craig Timberg and Harvard AIDS researcher Daniel Halperin, PhD, recount for the first time how Western colonial powers unwittingly sparked the AIDS epidemic and then fanned its rise. Drawing on remarkable new genetic discoveries, "Tinderbox" overturns the conventional wisdom on the origins of this deadly pandemic and the best means to fight it today.
Recent genetic studies have traced the birth of HIV to the Cameroonian jungle, where chimpanzees carried the virus for centuries without causing a major outbreak in humans. Yet during the Scramble for Africa, colonial powers blazed new routes through the jungle in search of rubber and other riches, sending African porters into remote regions rarely traveled before. It was here, during the age of European conquest, that humans first contracted the strain of HIV that would eventually cause 99 percent of AIDS deaths around the world.
Western powers inadvertently helped turn a localized outbreak into an epidemic as bustling new trade routes, modern colonial cities, and the rise of prostitution sped the path of HIV across Africa. Christian missionaries campaigned to suppress polygamy, but left in its place fractured sexual rules especially hospitable to the spread of HIV. Equally devastating was the loss of the African ritual of male circumcision, which recent studies have shown significantly helps to prevent infection.
The authors argue that the same Western arrogance that marked the colonial era has hamstrung the effort to fight AIDS. From the United Nations AIDS program to the Bush administration's historic effort, the global public health community has favored well-meaning but often ineffective Western approaches-abstinence campaigns, condom promotion, HIV testing- over homegrown African initiatives, and, until recently, ignored potentially lifesaving research about the impact of sexual behavior and male circumcision, which were considered politically incorrect.
In a riveting narrative that stretches from colonial Leopoldville to 1980s San Francisco to South Africa today, "Tinderbox" reveals how human hands unleashed this epidemic and can, therefore, contain it, if only we learn the lessons of the past.
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